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Varex Leaps Forward with Fidus’ FPGA Design Expertise

14 February 2024

Varex Imaging Corporation, a global leader in X-ray imaging components, faced a challenge in enhancing the performance of their Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA)-based X-ray sources and recognised they needed some FPGA design expertise and services support. Exacerbated by supply chain challenges, strict regulatory frameworks, and engineers demanding high performance, accuracy, and quality, Varex sought to de-risk market entry by partnering with Fidus – renowned for electronic system design and development, especially their FPGA design expertise and experience working with the AMD® Zynq™ UltraScale+™.

This blog post explores how Fidus’ unparalleled expertise in high-bandwidth, low-latency projects and their ‘first time right’ methodology played a crucial role in the success of Varex’s ambitious FPGA project.

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Understanding FPGAs

FPGAs, or Field Programmable Gate Arrays, are flexible integrated circuits that can be programmed for specific functions after manufacturing. This flexibility makes FPGAs an ideal choice for a wide range of applications, ensuring adaptability in a rapidly changing technological landscape.

When it comes to FPGA design, Fidus Systems excels in utilizing Xilinx Vivado software, a comprehensive and powerful suite designed specifically for FPGA development and implementation. Our deep expertise with this cutting-edge software enables us to optimize designs, enhance performance, and meet project objectives efficiently.

The hardware design goals

“The Varex team wanted a compact, production-grade, and cost-efficient hardware module coupled with a customizable development board that reduced their time to market for a new product. Varex was confident that we could deliver a fully functional system on time with absolutely no risk to performance and quality.”

– Alan Coady, CEO, Fidus Systems

Success in the X-ray imaging industry comes from understanding the latest technologies and making unique hardware and software choices to deliver high-performance systems. Varex aimed to capture the border security applications market by introducing the next generation of X-ray sources – devices with previously unachievable functionality, smaller size, increased cost-effectiveness, and support for multiple control interface protocols, including CAN bus, Ethernet, and Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI).

The project had five goals:

  1. Deliver new high-speed pulse modulation techniques.
  2. Meet strict power, data, latency, and signal integrity requirements.
  3. Reduce product quality risks and the likelihood of rework.
  4. Increase modularity to consolidate the Bill of Materials, and support future configurations.
  5. Adhere to strict development milestones.

The cutting-edge nature of these requirements eliminated traditional development options and pushed Varex towards the knowledge and experience of a Fidus partnership.

Choosing the right solution

Recognizing the need for a high-performance solution without incurring costly mistakes, Varex chose Enclustra’s AMD® Zynq™-based Mercury ZX5 SoC module, and sought Fidus’ expertise in FPGA design and embedded Linux software development. This collaboration was also selected to address supply shortages in labor and silicon, ensuring a financially viable and technically sensible approach.

The art of FPGA design

Providing FPGA design services is about more than just proficiency in software; it requires a deep understanding and experience in FPGA development. Fidus boasts a proven track record in successfully overcoming intricate challenges associated with FPGA development. Our systematic approach, comprehensive knowledge, and meticulous attention to detail ensures that our FPGA designs not only meet all technical requirements but deliver exceptional performance – the first time.

Overcoming the technical challenges

With complex requirements and a constrained schedule, Fidus worked to design and integrate the new FPGA code with the Mercury ZX5 SoC module. This meant solving the following technical challenges:

  • Form factor: The development of a custom baseboard for the Enclustra SoM was simplified through their reference baseboard and schematics review services, minimizing iterations in design and validation.
  • Interface specifications: Fidus ensured all FPGA connections with the SoM and external devices were meticulously designed to specifications with tight tolerances while navigating complex industry standards and minimizing the financial impact of IP licensing costs.
  • Latency: Maximizing performance between the system and SoM components required the development of input/output strategies, low-latency FPGA IP, and Linux drivers.
  • Signal integrity and power integrity: Rigorous modeling and simulation techniques were employed to ensure minimal distortion in communication channels, given the very high data rates and complex feature sets.

“A simple CAN bus interface requires licensing fees to use the technology, as well as knowledge to simulate and test it correctly. Fidus provides this insight and expertise to customers like Varex to minimize design churn and development rework, ensuring their first iteration accurately matches their requirements and delivers a competitive product in a shorter amount of time.”

Mazen Matar, Director, Technical Sales and Business Development, Fidus Systems

Enclustra’s high-quality SoMs met performance needs, and Fidus’, wielding their command of AMD Xilinx Vivado, ensured the FPGA development met Varex’s high standards for power, data handling, latency, and signal integrity. The partnership significantly reduced overall development risks and enhanced Varex’s ability to execute its go-to-market plan confidently.

Improving experiences for end-users

The successful delivery of the new FPGA and SoM marked a pivotal moment for Varex. In solving complex technical, performance, and development challenges, the collaboration with Fidus paved the way for more innovative FPGA-based solutions across diverse markets. Taking advantage of the Fidus design IP, Varex incorporated the technology to enhance the performance of several products.

Working together towards a common technical vision

The journey of Varex Imaging and Fidus demonstrates how technologies and experience come together to move challenging hardware designs forward. Several factors contributed to the success of integrating FPGA code with the SoC module that may not be easily replicated by other vendors:

  1. Specialized expertise: Fidus specializes in FPGA and SoC-based system development, with expertise in adapting FPGAs to different industries. Fidus brings over 20 years of experience in electronic systems and IP development, transforming innovative ideas into market-leading value in record time.
  2. Proven track record: Varex chose Fidus based on their experience in delivering high-quality solutions. The confidence in their combined ability to meet stringent performance and quality requirements led to the success of the project. Fidus’ claim of the ‘first time right’ was also attractive to reduce expensive development cycles.
  3. Overcoming supply chain issues: Fidus navigated shortages in labor and silicon effectively, proving their capability to handle unforeseen circumstances – something not all hardware design companies may excel at.
  4. Cost-effective solutions: The project met technical requirements and financial considerations simultaneously, a major win considering the significant cost constraints and a competitive marketplace.
  5. Complex problem solving: The technical challenges outlined here and in the full case study (link below) required sophisticated problem-solving skills in software and hardware design.

The successful integration of cutting-edge FPGA solutions met the goals set by Varex and provided a foundation for future advancements in X-ray imaging.

For hardware and FPGA engineers seeking insight into tackling complex design projects, the full case study offers a deeper look into the strategies employed and the lessons learned on this project.

Download it here.

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